Most of us know “Twelve Angry Men” as a 1950s teleplay, which was its origin, or as a movie that starred and was produced by Henry Fonda, or the cable remake that aired in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial that featured a diverse cast. Its author Reginald Rose wrote a stage version as early as 1964, but the work had never had a Broadway production until the Roundabout Theatre Company decided to mount it with Richard Thomas taking the Fonda role a couple of years ago. It is that same production—with the addition of Chicagoan George Wendt to the cast—that is currently on a national tour. Director Scott Ellis’ instincts were exactly right that the post-O.J. era is rife for a staging of the show as it was originally conceived: a searing, white-male examination of conscience in the pre-Civil Rights era. Both Wendt and Thomas are cast against type and are the star power that drives an ensemble of lesser-known but no-less-effective veteran stage actors who go toe-to-toe with them and each other to bring off this jury deliberation in a powerful and convincing way. These men really do get angry, and it is a palpable anger that can be felt by the audience, which makes the work’s disturbing message all the more meaningful as a result of the fact that we end up making the same exhausting and revelatory journey that the jury does. (Dennis Polkow)
“Twelve Angry Men” plays at the LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 West Monroe, (312)902-1400, through February 11.